DEAR CHAPEL FAMILY,
Over the past several months, my heart has been deeply grieved as I have watched Willow Creek Community Church and the Willow Creek Association navigate the waters of moral failure. I am both profoundly saddened and ever prayerful for those involved, and I am broken over the damage that has been done to God’s Church and the witness of Christ. What began as a story of leadership privilege and sin has evolved into a tale of institutional and cultural failure.
God’s Church is supposed to be a place where everyone young and old, male and female, from every hue and ethnicity is valued as an image-bearer and child of God. The Church is called to be a people who model the life and ministry of Jesus to the world. Our leaders are not expected to be perfect, but they are expected to be honest, integrity-filled, accountable people who love others more than themselves. When leaders forfeit these qualities, they give away the moral authority to speak into the lives of people and they compromise their witness in the world.
As a very flawed and often inadequate leader, I am incredibly grateful for the grace our Father bestows on me, for the community of leaders both inside and outside of our church that speak into my life theologically, morally and spiritually, and for my wife who keeps me humble, grounded and ever-aware of God’s love. I don’t imagine when I look at the tragedy befalling Willow Creek, that I, or any of us, are somehow immune to the sins that have entangled our brothers and sisters. I feel no sense of superiority or security, but rather a call to self-examination and vigilance in the Lord.
For the past 25 years, I have adhered to what has often been called the “Billy Graham Rule”, which is a commitment to never be alone with a woman who is not my mother, wife or daughter. While that boundary may seem rigid or limiting to some, it has been a strong boundary for me. Additionally, for many years, all of my e-mails and social media accounts have been monitored by others. I also have had strong, decades-long accountability relationships with our elders, pastors, and outside pastors who know and observe the workings of my life.
While we as a church have been historically strong and healthy with respect to the areas of moral integrity, accountability and transparency, we have seen this sad occasion as an opportunity to take a moral inventory of our own staff team, policies and relationships.
During this season, The Chapel’s Elder Team has re-affirmed our ongoing commitment to church leadership characterized by Biblical integrity, genuine accountability and forthright transparency. The Elder Team has also re-affirmed that our highest loyalty is to God, above that of any other person, including me – a value I gladly and wholeheartedly affirm. We have also recently formed a team of elders and staff to review and potentially revise our policies and procedures, as well as a team of pastors, elders and intercessors to meet with anyone who might be struggling with any of these types of issues on our staff. I can gladly report, from everything we can discern right now that our church is in a strong moral place, led by admittedly imperfect people who are doing their very best to follow God.
I would like to also invite all of us to pray for the elders, staff and people of Willow Creek, the brave women who have come forward, Bill Hybels himself as well as his wife and children in this season. I would also encourage each of us not to give into negativity, cynicism and doubt, but rather have faith that God is bigger than this storm. He is not surprised or confused. He is leading and will continue to lead His church into a new place. Lastly, I would ask each of you to lean into conversations occurring around you, not as a source of gossip, but as a voice of reason, grace, compassion and faith in the midst of this turbulence. Be slow to condemn and quick to uphold the Lord. We are His witnesses, we are His church, one undivided body meeting in many locations across the world with one testimony – that goodness, freedom and hope have come into the world. And while sin may place a basket over its radiance for a while, eventually the beauty and transcendence of the Kingdom will shine forth again.
Thank you for being a faith-filled, loving people whose hearts are full of goodness to those around you who need it. I am both proud and grateful to be your pastor.
Your brother in Jesus,